31 March 2010

PamBG's Blog: Christian Economic Life - Post 1: Foundation

Pam BC has just started an interesting series of posts on Christianity and economics. I've read the first two, and it looks very promising indeed. PamBG's Blog: Christian Economic Life - Post 1: Foundation:
I'm going to try a thought-experiment here. I want to think about what an economy run on Christian principles might look like. And this is quite literally a 'thought experiment'. At the moment, I have no idea of what I intend to write in the future, but I want simply to think out loud, building on ideas step by step.

So here are some initial thoughts for a foundation:

1) Christian thinking on economics should begin with Christian and biblical principles, not with economic principles.

2) That being said, it seems to me that a good principle for a Christian thought experiment on our economic life would be: honor God and love your neighbor. (There are actually a number of principles that the bible expresses on economic life that a lot of us might not like; forbidding the giving or receiving of debt is one of these.)

3) As I think and write, I will try to separate 'What works' from 'What should be'. I will recognize that 'What should be' doesn't always work well. In separating the two principles, I intend to avoid what seems to me to be a usual problem in Christian economic thinking: 'That operational method doesn't work, therefore it is unjust'.
That is a very good start, and I recommend that people who are interested in the topic read the whole series.

If one is really going to discuss such things properly, however, blog comments are rather inadequate. It is the kind of thing worth discussing in the Christianity and society forum.

Subscribe to chris_soc

Powered by us.groups.yahoo.com

And you can see my take on it at Notes from underground: The Invisible Hand.

29 March 2010

Stop selling military aircraft to South Africa, Anglican archbishops urge

Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and Desmond Tutu, his Nobel Peace Prize winning predecessor, have urged that Sweden stop selling military aircraft to South Africa.

In a move reminiscent of the days when he was vilified by the government-supporting press for proposing economic sanctions and an arms embargo against the apartheid regime, former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu signed a document asking that Swedish Gripen miliary aircraft not be sold to South Africa.

"Stop the sell of military aircrafs to South Africa" - Stockholm News:
KG Hammar, former Swedish archbishop, Karin Wiborn, chairman of the Swedish Christian Council, Desmond Tutu and Thabo Makgoba, South African archbishops have signed the article. They claim that the deal has released a wave of corruption that threatens the transition from Apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

The authors write that the cost for South Africa’s deal with several European countries to buy military equipment is around SEK 42 billion (about 4.2 billion euro). Half of that sum is spent on JAS 39 Gripen. They write that it is hard to gain acceptance in the South African society for the fact that resources are being allocated to military investments instead of fighting the legacy from the Apartheid era.

The four authors demand that the South African and Swedish governments investigate the accusations about corruption and put the whole deal on hold until the investigation is finished.

28 March 2010

Julius Malema -- South Africa's answer to Shane Warne?

It seems that at last South Africa has a fat buffoon to match, and even surpass Australia's Shane Warne: Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League.

The media love him; he gives them soundbites galore. Every time he opens his mouth he seems to put his foot in it. He seems as arrogant as Shane Warne, and like Warne, he is revered by many.

But, as someone once said, the trouble with most political jokes is that they get elected.

Professor Tinyiko Maluleke of Unisa warns that it would be a mistake to dismiss Malema as a lightweight political clown. If there is a joke involved, the joke is on us, and on the poor.

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke's Blog: The Julius Malema Strategy of Distraction and Diversion:
What Chumani Maxwele, the jogger arrested and detained for allegedly showing the middle finger to Zuma’s blue-light brigade, is said to have done, is done daily by Malemaists. They do it to the poor. In their arrogant press conferences, in VIP events for celebrities and through the fat parties they host in their tall houses, as they drink, chatter and clutter; they stick their middle finger to the poor. As they wheel and deal in the air-conditioned corridors of public and private sector offices, it is the poor they are offending. As their luxury ministerial cars speed through the squatter camps; as their 4x4s spray the playing children with the sewage that is flowing in the streets, the Malemaists are saying voetsek! to the poor.

27 March 2010

The Pope in Gauteng

Yesterday I had to take my son Simon to work in Johannesburg, and went to St Thomas's Church in Sunninghill where the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa was paying a visit. After a service in the church, the Patriarch had lunch with some of the parishioners.

One of the contrasts between Orthodoxy in America and Orthodoxy in South Africa is that in South Africa there is not the same ecclesiastical apartheid that one finds in America. St Thomas's is largely a Serbian parish. The parishioners are, for the most part, Serbian immigrants and their descendants, and they use the Serbian language in their services. But the Antimension on the Altar is signed by His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. People of all races and ethnic groups are welcome at St Thomas's, and one of the gifts presented to the Pope by Archimandrite Pantelejon was a picture drawn by his 7-year-old niece in Serbia, showing her uncle baptising black children in Johannesburg. Some of those who regularly attend St Thomas's are black South Africans from Klipfontein View, who used to belong to Tembisa, but find it easier to get to St Thomas's.

The picture shows Pope Theodoros II with Archimandrite Pantelejmon, the Rector of St Thomas's Church.

The Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Seraphim, says that we should not refer to the "Greek Orthodox Church", but rather "The Orthodox Church of South Africa", or the "African Orthodox Church" because though there are Greek, Russian and Serbian parishes in the archdiocese, which maintain ethnic traditions and have services in those languages, the Orthodox Church is one church. So while the Patriarch visited St Thomas's, he was shown a classroom attached to the church hall, which is a Serbian School, and children are taught the Serbian language and history, and he approved of it. But in spite of the variety of ethnic groups and traditions, we are still one Orthodox Church, under one bishop and one Pope and Patriarch, and nobody asks the question, so common among Americans "What juridiction are you?" In South Africa, thank God, that question is meaningless.

Every year a different bishop from Serbia visits St Thomas's for their patronal feast in October, but the visiting bishops are always given a formal reception by Metropolitan Seraphim at the Metropolis as well, and Metropolitan Seraphim makes a point of atending at least part of the celebrations of the patronal feast (panigyri).

Among the guests at lunch yesterday were Father Daniel, the new priest of the Church of St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, and Fr Seraphim (in the world Matthew van Niekerk), the first South African to be tonsured as a monk in South Africa, who is at the moment caring for the Greek parish in Klerksdorp.

Fimi of the Patriarch of Alexandria: Tone 4

His Beatitude Theodoros
Most Divine and Most Holy
Our Father and Shepherd, Pope and Patriarch
Of the Great City of Alexandria
Of Libya, Pentapolis and Ethiopia
Of all the land of Egypt and All Africa
Father of fathers, Shepherd of shepherds
Bishop of bishops, thirteenth in line of the Apostles
And Judge of the Universe, Many Years!

25 March 2010

Purging my blogroll

Every couple of months I go through my blogrolls and delete the links to blogs that no longer exist, or no longer interest me, or no longer allow me to read them. There have been quite a lot of those this month, either deleted by the authors, or open to invited readers only (and I wasn't invited).

My Emerging Faith, Convergence, The Lifegiver, Confessions of a seminarian and All Hallows Eve are among those that either no longer exist or are no longer accessible. Smulospace is perpetually "down for maintenance", which amounts to the same thing. Red Star Coven and Skyldings in the mead hall have announced that they will no longer be updated, but at least they are still available.

24 March 2010

Remembering Oscar Romero - 24 March 1980

Hat-tip to Santos Woodcarving Popsicles: Remembering Oscar Romero - 24 March 1980 for reminding us of the 30th anniversary of his martyrdom.

Oscar Romero was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, and several priests were also assassinated during his time as Archbishop.

Joseph A. Palermo: Archbishop Oscar Romero: Thirty Years and Little Learned quoptes from his last semon before his death:
I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!

21 March 2010

Sharpeville and Namibia

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, and the 20th anniversary of Namibian independence.

Someone sent me a newsletter from the Anglican Diocese of Namibia, and here are some excerpts from it

Theological Education

To address the chronic shortage of clergy in the diocese, the diocese has put together a group of 53 candidates to prepare them for ordained ministry. All are registered with Theological Education by Extension College of Southern Africa (TEEC). 6 are registered for Diploma in Theology and Ministry, 6 of them are registered for junior certificate in Theology (called AWARD) and 41 are registered for Certificate of Competency in Theology. This group is under tutorship of The Rt Rev Petrus Hilukiluah, our retired Suffragan bishop, The Very Rev Jeremy Lucas, our Associate Dean and Rector of the Cathedral, and The Ven Lukas K. Katenda, Diocesan Secretary & Treasurer. Progress on this program is recorded for last year with many passed their exams and assignments above average. The assignments and exams are marked in South Africa. This year they are doing their second year and have been dispatched to various parishes for their practical lessons.

Because of the shortage of clergy in the Diocese, we now rely heavily on our retired clergy to run parishes. But age is age. We must make sure that we are not abusing our retired clergy who deserved a restful retirement after decades of service to the church and the community. We owe a big thank you to our retired bishops, The Rt. Rev Shihala Hamupembe who serves as the Director of St Mary's Center replacing Mrs. Canner Kalimba who retired. He first served as Chaplain to the High school during the first two years of his retirement. He is now looking up to the diocese to find a suitable replacement for him. The Rt. Rev Petrus Hilukiluah served as Diocesan Coordinator for HIV and AIDS and later Director of Theological Education Training Program for the Diocese.

Bishop Shihala has indicated that he would like only to act as Mission Director for St Mary's Mission Center. He is looking forward to his replacement, during this year. The Cathedral Chapter and the Diocesan Standing Committee appointed Mr. Josef Hanghome to become the new Director of St Mary's Mission. Doing his Certificate in Theology, he has been registered with University of Management doing Certificate in Administration and Secretarial course, as a preparation the daunting task of managing St Mary's Mission.

Please pray for this young man to be equipped with commitment, dedication and enthusiasm as well as the divine power to dwell on him. Another landmark appointment is that of Mr Lineekela Daniel, who also is doing his Certificate in Theology. Mr Daniel was appointed to become the Manager of Christ the King Conference and Training Center. The Center is in the dilapidating condition and Mr Daniel will make sure the renovations have taken place and maintenance is carried out on a regular basis. He will be supported by a staff of one clear and temporary cooks.

The report is compiled by the Ven Kaluwapa Lukas Katenda
Diocesan Secretary & Treasurer, 24 Februiary 2010

There was much more, and lots of pictures. One thing that shocked me about it was that the only names of people I recognised were those who are retired. Shihala Hamupembe, the retired bishop, I first met when he stayed overnight with us in Windhoek on the way to a youth leadership course in Mindolo, Zambia, and we had to keep his presence secret because the Security Police were looking for him and trying to prevent him from leaving the country -- something we knew from the chance overhearing of a conversation on a police radio in a police station. Later, after I had been deported from Namibia, he stayed with us in Durban while on vacation from the seminary he was attending, and we got him to put his youth leadership training to good use by taking our parish youth group on a camp in Zululand.

Another seminary student, Eradius Mwaetako, stayed with us in one of his vacations, and the report said that he too was retired.

It was also interesting to read that 53 Namibian students were enrolled with the TEE College. When I was in Namibia 40 years ago, I was trying to get Namibian students enrolled in Theological Education by Extension courses, but the only project for such a programme, started by the Christian Institute, went through about four directors in as many months, and seemed in imminent danger iof collapse. I talked to some friends, Rich Kraft in Zululand and John Aitchison in Pietermaritzburg, and we decided that if the Christian Institute could spend half a million Rand and not produce a theological course, we could produce a theological course and not spend half a million Rand. So we started on a shoe string, writing course material that was highly illegal, because John Aitchison was banned and later I was too. We called it the Khanya Theological Correspondence Course, and it later combined with two other schemes to form the Theological Education by Extension College (TEEC), and is it was good to see that 53 Namibian students have enrolled in it. I've told more of the story of theological education here: Tales from Dystopia III: Theological education in a totalitarian state: Khanya

One thing that struck me as curious about the report, though, is that Bishop Petrus Hilukiluah, whom I also met as a seminary student, seems to have added an h to his name, as has the diocesan bishop. I knew him as Petrus Hilukilua. Is the extra h a special honorific for Namibian bishops? In which case, why doesn't Shihala Hamupembe spell his name Hamupembeh? Just wondering.

18 March 2010

Saints and wild animals

Yesterday sort of didn't happen, and so I missed the fact that 17 March commemorates a couple of saints who are known, among other things, for their relationships with dangerous wild animals.

But other bloggers didn't forget them, and two of them had some rather interesting posts, so I point you to them:

On Pilgrimage: Saint Gerasimos of the Jordan:
Among saints remembered for their peaceful relations with dangerous animals, not least is Gerasimos, shown in icons caring for an injured lion.


The Snakes and the Slaves: The Website of Unknowing:
So when Patrick expelled the snakes from Ireland, was this a mythic way of saying he brought about the end of the native, druidic religion? It might be easy to interpret things that way, and I suppose many, both Christian and Pagan, would agree with this way of reading history. But I am not so sure. I think indigenous Irish spirituality did not so much vanish under Christianity as adapt and evolve. The old gods and goddesses may have retreated undergone and became the fairies of myth and lore, but many practices associated with them — from the veneration of holy wells to the Imbolc ceremonies Christianised under devotion to St. Brigid — have lived on, into the present day.

15 March 2010

Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate

Apparently some people in the USA are opposed to universal healthcare on the grounds that it will increase the abortion rate. It seems that they are operating on a faulty premiss.

T.R. Reid - Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate - washingtonpost.com:
Increasing health-care coverage is one of the most powerful tools for reducing the number of abortions -- a fact proved by years of experience in other industrialized nations. All the other advanced, free-market democracies provide health-care coverage for everybody. And all of them have lower rates of abortion than does the United States.

This is not a coincidence. There's a direct connection between greater health coverage and lower abortion rates. To oppose expanded coverage in the name of restricting abortion gets things exactly backward. It's like saying you won't fix the broken furnace in a schoolhouse because you're against pneumonia. Nonsense! Fixing the furnace will reduce the rate of pneumonia. In the same way, expanding health-care coverage will reduce the rate of abortion.

At least, that's the lesson from every other rich democracy.

14 March 2010

Happy Mothers' Day!

Happy Mothers' Day to all mothers.

In England, since at least the 17th Century, the Fourth Sunday of Lent was known as "Mothering Sunday". It was a day when mothers were honoured.

Servants who worked and normally resided in the homes of the wealthy were given the day off and encouraged to return to their homes and spend time with their mothers. A tradition arose involving the baking of special type of fruit cake, known as Simnel Cake, which would be shared both at home and at various gatherings. (The Fourth Sunday of Lent, complete with the very same cake, was also observed in some places as "Laetare (Rejoice/Refresh) Sunday".

It is said that the origin was because in the old Anglican prayer book the Epistle reading set for the Fourth Sunday of Lent was from Galatians 4, and contained the verse "But Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all".

Another explanation is given that in the Middle Ages the Virgin Mary was honoured on this day, and that it was later extended to all mothers.

But whatever the origin, happy Mothers' Day to all mothers everywhere.

13 March 2010

Animal, vegetable or mineral?

I saw this sign in Woolworths this morning.

I can't recall ever having seen an INorganic egg.

Perhaps if I get Windows 7 to work properly, my computer will cluck and lay one.

12 March 2010

Traffic disruption

Traffic jams seem to be a way of life here, as just about every road in town (and the next town, and the one beyond that) is being dug up, widened, repaired, resurfaced and what not. So there are detours, deviations and diversions. The freeway to Johannesburg is narrowed to two lanes, or one, while they put a new piece of a bridge in place, or something.

Eventually (they hope in time for the World Cup in June) the freeway should be widened from three lanes to four or five, though the talk is that they will then make it a toll road, which should help to cut the traffic on it, as we look for alternative routes.

But yesterday a lorry crashed into some of the roadworks, where they are building a new bridge, and the chaos was far, far worse. The lorry turned over and caught fire on the northbound carriageway, under the new Atterbury Road Bridge. The Bridge is being widened, and usually has huge traffic jam in peak hours.

The crash happened on Wednesday afternoon, and the freeway was closed most of yesterday. The lorry hit a construction crane, and moved it by about a metre, so it had to be dismantled and rebuilt. The bridge was closed altogether for parts of the day as well. My wife usually goes along the freeway under the bridge to work, and it usually takes 15 minues, but it took her over two hours to get home yesterday.

I didn't take the photo, I don't know who did -- it was sent to me by e-mail. Reports say that one person was killed and three injured. The dead man was probably the co-driver of the truck. The driver apparently ran away, and the police are investigating a possible charge of culpable homicide.

10 March 2010

The marvels of science

Anyone who reads Internet discussions regularly will be aware that there are heated debates over scientific evidence for things like global warming, and that people argue about empirical data and interpret it in radically different ways.

Now someone has done some empirical research into the debates themselves.

Fixing the communications failure : Article : Nature:
Our research suggests that this form of 'protective cognition' is a major cause of political conflict over the credibility of scientific data on climate change and other environmental risks. People with individualistic values, who prize personal initiative, and those with hierarchical values, who respect authority, tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire. By contrast, people who subscribe to more egalitarian and communitarian values are suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as sources of unjust disparity. They are thus more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted. Such differences, we have found, explain disagreements in environmental-risk perceptions more completely than differences in gender, race, income, education level, political ideology, personality type or any other individual characteristic

At first sight it struck me as a prize-winning statement of the obvious, and I marvelled at the way people spend money on researching things that everyone knows anyway.

On second thoughts, however, it seems that there is more to it than that. Postmodernists have been saying for years that "science", even empirical science, is largely a matter of cultural perception. Now here are people using empirical methods to prove it.

Is this the death knell of modernity?

08 March 2010

How I found God and peace with my atheist brother

The journalist brothers Christopher and Peter Hitchens have gained some notoriety for their radically different views on the relative merits of atheism and Christianity, and even at one point had a public debate on the topic.

In this article Peter Hitchens gives his testimony, as it were. How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: PETER HITCHENS traces his journey back to Christianity | Mail Online

It appears that their sibling rivalry goes back to their early childhood, and that their parents at one point even persuaded them to sign a peace treaty, which Peter admits he was the first to break.

In a recent post I quoted something very critical of the British Daily Mail and its poor journalistic standards, and so when someone recommended this piece by Peter Hitchens to me I nearly didn't bother to read it. But it would have been a pity to let prejudice keep me from reading something as interesting as this.

07 March 2010

Jon Venables: the penalty for murder

On Friday Sky News was full of a story about Jon Venables, who, as a child of 10, with a friend, Robert Thompson, murdered a younger child. The point of the story was never clear, but they had the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying that the justice system must take its course and that he would not interfere. It seemed that Jon Venables, now 27, had been releaced from prison and given another identity, and then was back in prison after committing another offence, and that some people were demanding details of his new identity and offence.

They kept showing the pictures of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and I thought that Robert Thompson looked like a bit of a thug, the kind of kid I would have been scared of if I had been at school with him, while Jon Venables looked quite a sweet kid, miscievious perhaps, but not malicious. But appearances can be deceptive.

But this kind of story raises all sorts of issues that do not appear on the surface, and some of them are brought out in this post by Poliphilo Eroticdreambattle - Jon Venables:
The authorities may be desperate to keep Jon Venables' identity a secret, but the man himself seems to have been trying- even more desperately- to out himself. The story that's seeping through the official firewall reveals a haunted, young man- often the worse for booze and drugs- who has been buttonholing strangers and workmates and confiding his horrible secret to them- and then getting into fights when they reject him. We all find it difficult to live alone with our secret selves; how much more terrible when the secret self is a notorious murderer. Venables is not a psychopathic monster. A psychopathic monster doesn't reach out for acceptance and understanding. A psychopathic monster is sufficient unto himself and lives easily in his own skin.

And later Poliphilo says, in response to a comment:
Our society has decided that there is something sacred and untouchable about victimhood - and that the vengeful bitterness of people like Denise Fergus [the murdered child's mother] is never to be challenged.

In South Africa we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for people who committed cruel murders for political reasons, but what do you do when people do such things just for kicks? That is the theme of Dostoevsky's novel Crime and punishment, where the protagonist planned and carried out a murder just for kicks. And then in spite of himself he began to be plagued by feelings of guilt, and the need to confess. From Poliphilo's account it seems that something similar has happened to Jon Venables. But what does society, and the law, do with people like this?

The doggy rioter teargas show

The dog that hasn’t missed a single riot for years: This Blog Rules:
There has been lots of riots and protests from both anarchists and workers in Athens, Greece specially the past few years. One interesting thing is that there is one dog that is spotted at these riots from 2008 till today


Follow the link for more evidence. My daughter posted the link on Facebook, and I thought it was worth sharing.

06 March 2010

Which star signs have the best and the worst drivers?

One of the things I've often wondered, with all the statistical information that is collected nowadays, is whether anyone had tried correlating it with astrology. Now, at last, it seems as though someone has.

Which star signs have the best and the worst drivers? | Car Insurance:

This study, released in 2002, was carried out as part of Suncorp’s annual review of claims. “We always look for trends in claims to see if there are ways to reduce our pricing, but there is no intention to introduce astrology as a rating factor for motor insurance,” explained Warren Duke, Suncorp’s national manager of personal insurance.

It is always hard to disagree with the facts – and this is what they found:

Worst driver by star sign

1. Gemini May 21-June 21
2. Taurus April 20-May 20
3. Pisces February 19-March 20
4. Virgo August 23-September 22
5. Cancer June 22-July 22
6. Aquarius January 20-February 18
7. Aries March 21-April 19
8. Leo July 23-August 22
9. Libra, September 23-October 22
10. Sagittarius November 22-December 21
11. Scorpio October 23-November 21
12. And the safest driver is Capricorn December 22-January 19

It would be interesting to see if that fits with South Africa too. And then if a similar study was done in the northern hemisphere as well.

05 March 2010

Sarah Ruden, a joyful iconoclast - Rod Dreher

Sarah Ruden, a joyful iconoclast - Rod Dreher:
In many South African NGOs, I saw played out the paradox that faith is the basic thing that brings social justice. Activists who relied on their human capacities were ground into the dust. Activists who believed that God was in charge were unstoppable. If they got things wrong, they just tried another way, because they saw themselves as weak sinners with a very partial vision; it was okay, and in fact comforting, to admit they were wrong. If their practical goals turned out to be destructive or impossible, they could cheerfully let them go--to love God was their mission, which no one could take away from them. And like Paul, they have done far more for human justice than they ever consciously intended, merely by impressing on people--who had never heard such a thing--that God cared about them and had suffered for them.

I know from personal experience that that is very true. I saw it on a blog, which was quoting another blog. I really with Sarah Ruden would write a blog. I'd like to read more like that. She describes hereself as a Quaker pacifist.

03 March 2010

Legends from a small country: 'Kill a Tourist Day'

An Irish actress was grazed by a bullet while riding in a taxi in Cape Town on New Year's Eve. And the story was retold in the Brit media, intertwined with urban legends, as urban legend fundi Arthur Goldstuck tells.

Legends from a small country: 'Kill a Tourist Day':
As it is, a report the following day in the Daily Mail, by Mail on Sunday correspondent James Tapper, kicked off with this strong innuendo: 'Actress Victoria Smurfit has revealed she came within inches of death when a gunman opened fire on a taxi she was travelling in while holidaying in South Africa – the nation that will stage the World Cup in just six months.'

Mr Tapper may like to know that a man was killed with a shotgun in what police believed to be a gang fight, in London just the previous week. As far as can be ascertained, not a single newspaper anywhere in the world linked this to the fact that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. Nor did they do so when a man was stabbed to death after chasing two muggers in London the same week. Nor did they do so when schoolboys were stabbed after a gang invaded a party in London that very weekend. Barely a day goes by without a violent incident in London involving killings and stabbings, but nary a connection to London being a host city in a mere two years' time.

And now, with 2010 (that's twenty-ten, not two thouand and ten) less than 100 days away we'll probably see more such stories. Twenty-ten, of course, is not the year, but the kick-off for the World Cup. There have been some discussions about whether it is twenty-ten or two-thousand and ten, but we've heard nothing but twenty-ten for the last six years. I thought I'd better record that, because in another century or so it may be disputed. There was a rather heated discussion in the alt.usage.english newsgroup recently about whether our ancestors called 1907 "nineteen seven" or "nineteen oh seven" or something else.

So just for the record, if Blogspot is still around in 2110, the year two-thousand and nine was followed by twenty-ten, both the year and the World Cup. We didn't call it "twenty-nine" because that could be confused with "29", but twenty-ten is OK, and has been OK for six years at least.

Oh yes, and it is quite common in South Africa for people to fire guns into the air to celebrate the New Year. Stupid, yes. Dangerous, yes. But still common, though not as common as it used to be (it's even more common in Albania, I believe, I wonder what sports event they could be hosting?)

And people have been killed because of such things. A few years ago a bullet went through a corrugated iron roof and illed a baby lying asleep in its cot. It was a rather unusual calibre, and police did ballistics tests, and worked out where the shot must have been fired from, and searched houses in the vicinity, and found some guy who had a vintage rifle and admitted that yes, he had fired it into the air on New Years morn, at or around midnight. He was charged with culpable homicide, and found guilty. The story of how the police solved the case is displayed in the police museum in Pretoria, so it's probably not an urban legend.

So if you're planning to come to South Africa for the World Cup, don't worry; 2010 starts long after New Year.

01 March 2010

Modernity: from dawn to decadence

From Dawn to Decadence From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I saw this book going cheap in a bookshop that sold remainders -- unsold copies of books returned to the publishers. I knew Jacques Barzun as one of the authors of The Modern Researcher, which I had helpful in writing my doctoral thesis. So I bought it, and I'm glad I did.

It's a kind of history and tourist's guide to modernity. It's taken me a long time to read it, because it's a long book. I read other stuff in the mean time, and when I was halfway through I forgot about it for a while. I was moved to pick it up again after an internet discussion on science, magic and miracles, and now at last I've finished it.

It covers a tremensous range of Western culture, and in this age of globalisation you could say it's global culture as well. A generation ago, back in the 1970s, the BBC did two TV series that produced books on similar topics -- Kenneth Clark on Civilisation and J. Bronowski on The ascent of man dealing with arts and science respectively. I still remember how uncomfortable I felt at seeing "civilisation" spelt thus. It needed to be spelt "civilization", and "civilisation" just looked wrong, and somehow uncivilized, though I've got used to it now.

Barzun's book deals with the last 500 years of both, and deals with culture, religion, politics and science, and how they have influenced the modern worldview. In doing so, he also draws attention to things one tends to forget or overlook. In thinking of modernity, I tend to think of the Reneaissance, the Reformation and the Englightenment as the shaping forces. Perhaps that's because, as a missiologist, I see those as the things that formed the worldview of Western missionaries who came to Africa, and that can lead to an over-simplification. I tend to overlook Romanticism, as a reaction against the Enlightenment. I don't forget it altogether, of course. I enjoy Beethoven's music, and J.M.W. Turner's paintings. But most of the 19th-century Western missionaries who came to Africa were anything but romantic in their outlook. Or if they were, they managed to hide it pretty well.

It's a long book, and that's why it took me a long time to read it, but it's also divided into short sections that make it easy to refer to a little at a time. So having read it through, I think I'll keep it at my bedside to refer to again and again.

Here are a few of my favourite bits, and there are many in a book this long:

The 18C, that is, Diderot on Painting, Lessing on the Laokoon, and finally Winckelmann on Greece, made detailed art criticism an institution. Its role is part scholarship, part advocacy. Winckelmann's lifelong work was to glorify Greek art and discredit the Roman and this to revivify Plato's belief that Beauty is divine and to be loved and worshipped. It may be a symbolic coincidence that Winckelmann was the victim of a homosexual murderer.

Every age has a different ancient Greece. Winckelmann's is the one that moved the 19C. By way of Goethe, Byron, Keats and lord Elgin, it inspired the universal urge to put a picture of the Parthenon in every schoolroom. It also aroused the Occident to support the Greeks' war of independence against the Turks.

And, of course, that helped to shape modern Greece as well. It was the Occidental supporters of Greek independence (like Byron), with their Romantic notions of the glories of ancient Greeks, that led modern Greeks to think of themselves as Hellenes rather than Romans, and to produce such abominable slogans as "Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism", and led to the inclusion of Byron in a Greek books of "Saints' names".

View all my reviews >>


Related Posts with Thumbnails